According to a press release from the Bathampton Meadows Alliance, B&NES council has been told it won’t get permission for a vital access road to its preferred site for a fourth Park & Ride – East of Bath.
The press release is as follows: “Documents from Highways England obtained by campaigners show that Bath and North East Somerset Council was told seven weeks ago (10th February) that it would be too dangerous to build an access road off the Batheaston bypass onto council leaders’ preferred site – Site B – for the new Park & Ride development for Bath.
In the latest chapter of the council’s troubled plans to build a fourth Park & Ride for Bath on Bathampton Meadows, the government agency responsible for major roads in Britain has told B&NES Council that Highways England is unable to support the proposed access for the new Park & Ride because of ‘operational and safety’ concerns.
The Conservative-led Cabinet voted at the end of January to press ahead with plans to build a Park & Ride on Bathampton Meadows despite widespread opposition in the city to the plans, and criticism that transport officials have failed to provide a proper evidence-based case for the £17.5 million project at a time of stringent cuts elsewhere in the authority.
Council leaders said their preferred choice for the Park & Ride was Site B, land west of Mill Lane, part of which is on New Leaf Farm which is owned by the Horler family. But they said a decision would be made in ‘weeks’ about whether it was possible to proceed with Site B, or whether Site F, on the other side of Mill Lane, would be pursued instead.
Two months after that meeting of cabinet councillors, a spokesman confirmed just last week that they are still pursuing Site B, despite the fact that farmer Steve Horler has gone on record several times saying they will not sell their farm land.
But now these latest documents, obtained from Highways England under a Freedom of Information request, show that the Council knew weeks ago that in addition it will not get permission from Highways England for access to site B from the bypass.
Bathampton resident, Sian James, who put in the FOI request, said: “The email with this information is dated the 10th February. So why is the council still putting out statements saying they’re pursuing Site B when they know they haven’t got approval from Highways England?”
“The road speed is too great, the access road is too short, and this would fill up with traffic at peak times and spill out onto the Batheaston bypass, and that is dangerous. Do council leaders think they’re going to convince Highways England that Bath has careful drivers who won’t smash into one another on the right turn, or are they going to try to defy the opinion of Highways England in the same way as they have defied another Statutory Consultee, Heritage England? It seems that no matter who tells Bath’s Conservative-led council that this is a bad idea, they continue to refuse to listen.”
The chief executive of the Bath Preservation Trust, Caroline Kay, called on Bath and North East Somerset council to say publicly what it is now proposing to do about the controversial development.
Ms Kay said: “It is distressing that the Council appear to have been told over a month ago by Highways England that Site B was not a runner for the Park & Ride and yet this has not been shared with the many concerned residents and organisations with an interest in this development.”
Ms Kay said a Park & Ride on the council’s only remaining option, Site F, on the other side of Mill Lane and which is council land, would however be ‘even more prominent and damaging to the landscape and to the Green belt’.
Ms Kay continued: “It is difficult to see how they could meet planning requirements if they attempt to pursue Site F. It is time for a clear statement from the Council about how they intend to proceed.”
The 10th February email from Highways England to B&NES questions how the access road would operate ‘if things went wrong and at very busy times’ and says that ‘where queues and (traffic) flow are higher there would be an increased risk of side swipes and shunts on the approach to the proposed access’.
The email concludes that: ‘Although Highways England support the principle of P&R, I am unable to support the proposed access.’
Highways England is a statutory consultee in the planning system. Planning guidance published by Highways England clearly sets out that ‘Where a Local Planning Authority decides that it does not wish to accept our recommendation, they must refer the case to the Secretary of State ‘as soon as practicable’.
A spokesperson for B&NES told Bath Newseum tonight:
‘The Council always stated that progressing site B was dependent on 2 criteria – agreeing purchase of the site and securing agreement with Highways England (HE) on site access – which is why site F was held in reserve.
The letter received from HE on the 10th Feb was an initial response to the proposed entry into site B and work and discussions are ongoing with them over the potential options for access into this site, being mindful of the importance of safety for all road users.
As stated in their response to the Council, HE remain supportive of a Park & Ride. In addition to this, discussions remain ongoing with the landowners but this was paused during the period of the Call-In of the Cabinet decision. Therefore, the position of the Council remains unchanged.”